Indian Americans have all the traits necessary to surpass Italian Americans in every field – if they haven’t already – strong families, top educations, entrepreneurial, and deeply proud. They are Republicans and Democrats. Some, like UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, have converted to Christianity. But, for the most part, they come with proprietary religions as Hindus or Sikhs (“sicks”) – the key to ethnic solidarity.
It took Italian Americans one hundred years of back-breaking work, thousands of war dead, and decades of degradation to become White. In the space of fifty years, Indian Americans are taking America by storm, effectively becoming Asian-Caucasians. Like us, they came with a world-class cuisine and a gregarious character. Unlike us, their leading immigrants arrived educated and speaking English. Like Irish immigrants before them, Indians learned the way to power from their British occupiers. We southern Italians learned nothing from our Bourbon rulers.
Search the web and you’ll learn this: Indians make up almost 4% of our medical doctors, hold top positions in almost every big technology company (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc). Indian immigrants founded more engineering and technology companies from 1995 to 2005 than immigrants from the UK, China, Taiwan and Japan combined. Households headed by Indian immigrants had a median income of $101,591, compared to $51,000 and $56,000 for overall immigrant and native-born households, respectively. By far they are the richest and most successful ethnic group in the USA due to their strong work-ethic and focus on education.
My own experience with Indian Americans has been positive. My first introduction to Indian cuisine came through a Jainist – a godless vegetarian Hindu sect – named Shah. English-speaking and affable, Shah like many Indians was very curious about Euro-Americans sometimes getting very personal. He once asked me, his client, if I really believed the Virgin Mary was a virgin – provocative, but we had a great lunch anyway.
A few blocks from my Nassau County home Indians and other South Asians are buying up eastern Queens, a borough of New York City. It’s an easy run for me to scores of South Asian restaurants, not to mention two Sikh temples. The fact that Indians are high earners becomes apparent as you witness them buying up $700,000 “Archie Bunker” capes transforming them into multi-million dollar palaces with soaring porticos, stainless steel gates, and grand stairways and balconies. (Western Queens is nearly all East Asian – calligraphy dominating all the store signage. Whites are only 33% of the borough’s population, and falling.)
I’ve observed one major difference between Indians and Italians: Indians avoid hanging out their dirty laundry even though Indian doctors have rivaled other ethnic groups in Medicare/Medicaid fraud, and bribing officials is not unknown. However, Mother India is sacred in image and in Bollywood movies. (Our filmmakers, and even our academics, often paint Italy as Mafia-ridden, fascist, and racist.) And you will hear little of India’s deplorable caste system – a bigotry brought to these shores.
National Public Radio did a report on discrimination among Indians, especially against the Dalits (“Untouchables”) right here in America. While Sicilian omerta` and Italian American racism are ballyhooed in media and academia, Varna — the Hindu ideology of superiority and inferiority based on birth, profession, pollution, and purity — remains the dark side of Indian heritage here.
The other day, I happened to find a PBS episode on Francis Ford Coppola’s return to his ancestral village of Bernalda in the southern region of Basilicata. The filmmaker who elevated thieves and murderers to Italian American icons is celebrated in Bernalda after donating to the village and buying a hotel/residence there. The man who pretty much destroyed the memory of our classical heritage addresses the camera, hypocritically, saying that his father taught him that “America was the greatest country, but Italy the greatest culture.”
A mischievous voice in me wondered if Indian Americans might one day be blessed with such men as Coppola, Scorsese, and Chase. –JLM